Um, Shouldn't You Have Asked Me These Questions Before I Got on the Plane?

customsbadge.jpg
Got home from the airport last night just in time to see Channel 8's piece on how Dallas PD and the FBI are prepping for the 10th anniversary of September 11. Would have been home a little sooner, but, ya know, I stopped by a Northwest Highway construction site. Oh -- and I was briefly detained by a man with a badge at Dallas-Fort Worth International. Perhaps I should explain.

I was out of town yesterday, in Los Angeles. Left Tuesday night, came back Wednesday night. Very uneventful. Left the hotel room just long enough to do an interview. Arrived yesterday on the 9:10, a very full flight. Slept, drank a Dr Pepper, re-read Moneyball; landed just as I got to the part about how players love playing for Ron Washington, who, under Billy Beane, was the Oakland A's first base coach. So far, so thrilling.

So. We landed at Terminal D. I was near the back and among the last to deplane. As I walked down the glass-lined corridor to the terminal, I noticed a handful of folks loitering around the mouth of the ramp -- men and women clad in khakis and short-sleeved knits that came in various shades of breige. They looked like they were waiting to meet and greet passengers, like in the old days -- before the fall of 2001, when you could get through security without a boarding pass and greet a returning family member with a hug, a kiss or divorce papers. Thought that odd, and kept walking, thinking about how fun it must be to play for Ron Washing ...

"Excuse me, sir, do you mind coming with me for a moment?"

A gentleman, perhaps a foot shorter than me, had stepped in my way, blocking me from leaving. He'd come out of nowhere, from a small hallway near the jet bridge exit. He was dressed like the others, like a guy behind the counter at a muni golf course's pro shop. He also looked a little like the guy who plays Det. Esposito on Castle. (Aw, leave me alone.)

At the end of the lanyard around his neck was his I.D. Said: "U.S. Customs." He flashed a badge.

"This will only take a moment."

He asked to see my I.D.

"Coming home, are we?"

Fuck, I hope so.

"Um, yes," I said. But it didn't sound like me. It sounded like my sister. If I had one. That's what she would have sounded like.

"And how long were you in Los Angeles?"

I tried to ask: What's this all about? He cut me off and repeated his question.

"Twenty-four hours."

"Short trip," he said, in a tone of voice that suggested it was all very ... suspicious. But, really, for all I know, that's just the way he talks. Like, maybe he also thought my voice is always this high. Like Tiny Tim high. The squinting, though, was unnecessary. I also wondered if he could tell I was beginning to vibrate.

"Business or pleasure?"

I kept expecting him to put his hand on my arm and ask me to come with him. At this point I began wishing I hadn't spent so many years watching so many movies. I also tried to calculate how long I could hold my breath, should it come to that.

"Business."

"What were you doing there?"

I mean, really. At some point I realized I was no longer nervous (no reason to be, but that's the way random interrogations go) and was just a little ... peeved. My dad was outside, waiting to give me a ride home. I wanted to get home. I'd slept maybe two hours in the past 36. I'd done nothing wrong. It's the deep, rich weekend summer tan, isn't it, officer? You're suspicious.

I told him I was there working, doing an interview. "I'm a journalist."

"Unh-hunh. Did anyone give you anything to hold before you got on the plane or while you were in transit?"

Well, the cab driver did give me my receipt. I knew I shouldn't have taken it. Damn thing was covered in ink. And he was from Moscow too! Told me he used to be an engineer, but now all he could do in U.S.A. was drive cab. Clearly, the man was a spy. They have been tailing me since L.A. I am the Will Smith character in a Tony Scott movie.

"Um, noooo ..."

I looked around and noticed the guy who'd been sitting next to me was also being questioned. You gotta be kidding me. The guy who'd slept the whole way? Who'd been listening to Al Green on his iPod? (Yeah, I look at shit like that.) Who woke up long enough to read some sex workout article in Men's Health? Two, three other passengers had also been stopped. Enough already.

I asked again: What's this all about?

Finally, he said: "We're just doing advance security. You know, the anniversary of September 11?"

Yeah. And ...?

"You answered all my questions in a normal tone. If not ..."

He didn't say anything else. He clearly liked the dramatic weight of those ellipses. He handed me back my I.D. He said I could go.

"Have a nice evening."
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117 comments
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steve
steve

welcome to Nazi Germany...and we thought the republicans were bad...

John2247
John2247

Good grief.  I never thought I'd defend the TSA, but...

Millions of people fly each year with no incident.  But somebody posts an incident (which really amounts to nothing -- I've been asked invasive questions when shipping packages at Fed-Ex) and everybody gets riled up.

Of course, if we had another air-related terrorist attack TSA would be the first to get blamed.  So they are damned either way.

And have any of you flown Internationally?  The TSA is quite tame in comparison to some countries and their security procedures.

Lisa Simeone
Lisa Simeone

"And have any of you flown Internationally?  The TSA is quite tame in comparison to some countries and their security procedures."

Bullsh*t.  The TSA is a farce.  A criminal, out-of-control agency that abuses people with impunity.  And yes, I've flown all over the world.

"Of course, if we had another air-related terrorist attack TSA would be the first to get blamed.  So they are damned either way."

Bullsh*t again.  The TSA hasn't prevented or thwarted a single attempted attack in its multi-billion-dollar history.

Some of us aren't afraid of the ordinary risks inherent in everyday life, risks that will get you killed a lot faster than some bogeyman terrorist will.  If you and people like you are so ill equipped to handle these everyday risks, then perhaps you should stay home cowering under the bed and let the rest of us fly freely and live our lives in dignity.

John2247
John2247

"Bullsh*t again.  The TSA hasn't prevented or thwarted a single attempted attack in its multi-billion-dollar history."

Nice job at "proving" a negative AND ignoring my point.

"Some of us aren't afraid of the ordinary risks inherent in everyday life, risks that will get you killed a lot faster than some bogeyman terrorist will.  If you and people like you are so ill equipped to handle these everyday risks, then perhaps you should stay home cowering under the bed and let the rest of us fly freely and live our lives in dignity."

1. I realize my drive on LBJ to DFW is more life-threatening than the flight itself.2. You do not know me. 3. "...so ill equipped to handle these everyday risks..." -- That is your caricature of me, not me. 3. "...let the rest of us fly freely and live our lives in dignity" -- I don't know whether to salute you or suggest you visit a therapist.  Get a grip.  

R Steven Johnson
R Steven Johnson

We've been asking for Israeli style security instead of being groped by perverts. This is it.

Lisa Simeone
Lisa Simeone

Israeli methods aren't a panacea.  Though Israel has eliminated terrorism on planes, they've learned to accept it in other venues -- buses, cafes, marketplaces. Bombs still go off there.

There is no such thing as 100% security, anywhere.  The belief of so many Americans that there is, is why they're willing to bend over and spread 'em every time an authority figure tells them to.  They cherish the fantasy of security more than the reality of life.  Life entails risk.

The Israelis also rely heavily on racial and ethnic profiling.  If you're with an American tour group, for example, you'll be ushered quickly through.  If you're the "wrong" racial or ethnic type, you'll get a thorough going-over. And if you're a peace activist -- forget it; you'll be strip-searched in a back room.  Just ask Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein.

Mike Vollmer
Mike Vollmer

This is disgusting in America.  The only correct answer to any of those question is "None of your damed business".

When people quit cooperating with these Nazis, they'll go away.

Customs does have more leeway in border zones, but they're supposed to ask if you're a U.S. citizen first, and when the answer is "yes", that's the end of it.

USN_RET
USN_RET

You are sadly misinformed. Customs doesn't care about nationality.  Immigration might, but you still gotta prove your citizenship. 

In the present care, none of this matters.  It was not at a border crossing.  The only correct answer, as you said, is "None of your damed business".  I'm totally with you on that one.

Max
Max

Dang it. Big Bob is foiled again.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Every time I read something like this I think of the guy I used to know who went to work for TSA at DFW because his Lance snack food vendor route was too stressful.

yo yo mamama
yo yo mamama

Looks to me like they were searching for dry runners. Terrorists will often do "dry runs" or practice attacks, prior to carrying out the actual attack. Someone who slipped through initial security prior to takeoff will still be nervous upon landing. Security at Tel Aviv has shown that more success is had IDing people who appear overly nervous, or shifty-eyed, or just plain out of whack. So they pull people aside who were on short trips (no need to stay longer for a dry run) to look for anyone acting like they are hiding something (because they are still planning on carrying out an attack).

scottindallas
scottindallas

Palestinians have to endure far worse in crossing their own West Bank cities and towns. 

Stephen Martin
Stephen Martin

So, that's the standard now? As long as our government is less oppressive than the way Israel treats the Palestinians, we're okay?

Phelps
Phelps

So, that's the standard now? As long as our government is less oppressive than the way one country treats another that it is at war with, we're okay?FIFY

Stan
Stan

Since when did customs officials harass domestic passenger traffic?

Facebook User
Facebook User

I assume you were there for a screening of Moneyball and an interview with? Michael Lewis?

Melinda_cook68
Melinda_cook68

"Um, yes," I said. But it didn't sound like me. It sounded like my sister. If I had one. That's what she would have sounded like.

LOL...love it!

Guest
Guest

So our national security is based on finding people after their flights who talk funny?

And (based on yesterday's story) hopefully finding terrorists who overstay their visas before they actually execute whatever terrorist attack they were working on?

Guest
Guest

Shouldn't have been such a pussy and should have answered with a sarcastic tone. The drone wouldn't have understood either way.

Jack E. Jett
Jack E. Jett

How Robert Wilonsky is it to mention the guy sitting next to him was listeing to Al Green?  I can't believe he left out the name of the song and the year it was made.

Heavy Metal Church Lady
Heavy Metal Church Lady

Just a guess: "Jesus is Waiting" (Soul Train performance) and "Here I am, Come and Take Me."

paulb67
paulb67

There go our civil liberties.  I would have told him he has no reason to detain me without a warrant or probable cause, and kept walking.  We are being fooled in this country into believing this kind of behavior by law enforcement is legal.

Rachum
Rachum

The civil liberties are still there, just available upon request. For instance, I know a guy, actually he lives at my same address, who regularly flies with a Sam's Card as his only ID. Apparently, it is easier to get some civil liberties with your fries, than to deal with the DMV.

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

Wait. What?  The guy in your house shows a Sam's card and is able to board a commercial air flight?  I thought TSA required a government issued ID?  Unless Walmart is now the government, that doesn't seem quite right.  Of course, neither does interrogating someone deplaning.

redheadedblonde
redheadedblonde

Should you not have a gov't issued id you can still travel, just with additional security checks.  If someone has his/her wallet stolen while on vacation I'm sure that he/she would prefer to still be able to get home.  Not sure about non-domestic flights, though.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Wal-Mart is not the government; Wal-Mart is more powerful than the government.  The government wishes it was Wal-Mart.

Kevin Kirby
Kevin Kirby

Face it, Bob - you just look like a Eurotrash terrorist. John McClane is gonna kick your ass.

Eric E Jensen
Eric E Jensen

Let me get my violin. You are questioned without provocation, in your opinion, after walking off a flight dead tired and in a bad mood? Tough luck. Sounds to me like security is trying to do their god damned job. Are there a fair amount of incompetent TSA officers? Probably. Are the intentions predominantly rational and in our (the public's) best interest. Yes. This is indeed a 'completely ludicrous tale' in that it has been posted on Jalopnik. Grow a pair, Robert, and thank the security detail next time they ask you questions.

Matt Chappel
Matt Chappel

Aren't you a good little boot licking, servile slave.

If I had a badge you'd probably suck my dick, AND swallow. Assume the position, bitch.

TimCov
TimCov

So, when they start going door-to-door to "just ask a few questions" will you complain? How about if they start stopping random people on the street to "just ask a few questions?" What if they start setting up roadblocks to "ask a few questions?"

All of them are governmental oppression and infringement of our rights. One time I was asked why don't I apply for a job with the TSA. My response was that I had sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the USA. I will not take part in a massive violation of the Constitution.

RTGolden
RTGolden

They can't go door to door.  The Jehovah's Witlesses have claimed that activity as a purely religious act inspired by God.  Governmental infringement violates the 1st Amendment. 

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

The Humane Socir\ety (or is it the ASPCA?) can enter your home and take an animal back. BS.

Matt Chappel
Matt Chappel

These people who support TSA and stunts like the one in this article are simply devoid of any knowledge of history. It's simple as that.

Every single country which has descended into a police has done so in the exact same fashion as America is right now. First it starts with "security", then it's "papers please". Then they come to your home. Then?

We live in a unique country, where we actually have Constitutional rights, and these arrogant Nazi apologists would rather bend over than defend the rights their fore-fathers died for.

The most depressing part is that I have to lose my rights because you people are too cowardly to stand up for your own. How pathetic. How sickening.

"Home of the Brave", my ass....

More like home of the slave.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Start sewing on the yellow stars and the pink triangles.

Paul
Paul

Your papers please ... Now you vill com mit me ... (Said in a very bad nazi german accent)

Suspicious
Suspicious

Ok.  I'll bite.  How is security "doing their job" by questioning somebody after the threat no longer exists?  

John2247
John2247

Still on airport property.

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

Precisely. And Mr. Customs said "advance security". Really?

jackwagon
jackwagon

This.  Bin Laden=dead.  Saddam=dead.  How many enemies of the state do we have to kill before citizens get their civil liberties back?

Paul
Paul

Is it necessary to give up our liberties to remove our enemies?  Are you a sheeple?

dwradabaugh
dwradabaugh

Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?

Observist
Observist

And in response to a cavity search:  These aren't the 'roids you're looking for

Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek

"No sir, I do not even KNOW J.W.P.  I promise.  It's the guy with the shotgun on the porch you're after! Can you stop waterboarding me now?"

Ed D.
Ed D.

This was inevitable once Wikileaks posted that "known associates of Jim Schutze" list.

Coleman
Coleman

fucking thugs. I can't stand what air travel in this country has become for the sake of security theater. A few years back we flew to Tokyo, and the airport was not only the most quiet place I think I've ever been, but security was visible but not invasive. Came back through LAX, and you'd have thought it was Baghdad; Assault rifles everywhere, customs that talk AT you like you just shit the bed, and a very adorable dachshund drug dog sniffing around. Yeah...go ahead and spook the shit out of travelers on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, that'll show those terrorists...

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